Pictured: Chris O'Dowd and James Franco in 'Of Mice and Men' | Photo by Richard Phibbs
Dear Jimmy Franco:
My heart beats like a hammer and I stutter and I stammer every time I see you at the picture show. In fact, I’m writing to tell you, Jimmy, that you’re my absolute dream man. Not because of your looks, which (as proven by your equally cute brother, Dave) are genetic and as such are really not much of an actual accomplishment. I’m talking about the breadth of your resume, your interests, and your abilities, and the way your credits grow like the world’s most delightful fungus, as you go from Oscar-nominated flicks to soaps to quirky shorts to everything gay, gay, gay with nary a second’s doubt or self consciousness. It seems like there’s nothing you can’t do—or won’t do—as you fearlessly dive into vast varieties of projects with an obvious need to stay stimulated, relevant, and terribly busy. It’s amazing that you even have the time to stop and dis me. But we’ll get to that later, dear.
You first made it on TV, just like the equally daring Johnny Depp, and your career traverses both the mainstream and the avant garde—sort of like Alan Cumming and Neil Patrick Harris—but you’re not really comparable to anyone as you forge your own path and make your own legend, dumbfounding critics every step of the way. I doubt anyone but you would be capable of being so utterly hilarious in something like Pineapple Express, then being scarily brilliant as the poetic sociopath with a grill in Spring Breakers, then directing a dead serious, split-screen adaptation of a Faulkner novel (As I Lay Dying)! For starters!
You’ve worked with apes, you’ve costarred with witches, and you’ve done some movies that don’t even come out, in between an occasional one that probably shouldn’t have. But your creative intent is never boring, and your courage is to be commended, along with the sexy way you jump from films that make $234 million to ones that can’t even fill 234 seats and back again, shunning regrets in favor of doing what the hell you artistically please from moment to Jimmy Franco moment.
Even your straight choices seem gay, like the movie you’re reportedly going to do about the making of my favorite cinematic stinker, The Room. That’s the 2003 excuse for a film that has a ludicrous plot, ghastly dialogue, and rotten performances combining for a hilarious romp that I’ve forced hundreds of friends to watch, not caring if they immediately become ex friends. I’m certain you can make the result every bit as darkly delicious as Ed Wood.
There’s just something about you that’s so damned appealing, Jimmy. It’s that you’re “one of us,” as a (remaining) cohort of mine recently remarked, noting the fact that you have a very engaged sense of taste and the chutzpah to pursue it. There’s also a sense of the superhuman about you, your schedule so packed that you barely have time to do what I’d do if I were you—gaze in a mirror and blow kisses for hours on end. You’re always studying, earning degrees, teaching, and modeling for Gucci, and you’re currently promoting a poetry book, plus Palo Alto, a movie you star in based on a short story collection you wrote! How much Red Bull do you drink? And now you’re on Broadway, too, summoning the nerve to enter the world of stage chops via a revival of Of Mice and Men, the John Steinbeck tale of a migrant worker (played by yourself) trying in vein to control a simpleton who doesn’t know his strengths or weaknesses (Chris O’Dowd). The production is a little bit snoozily earnest, but you get more points just for caring once more about Americana, art, and stretching those muscles. (I must say, however, that your calling the New York Times’ Ben Brantley “a little bitch” and “an idiot” for critiquing the production was misguided—the man is far from dumb, and I happened to agree with a lot of his points—though my faith in you was restored when you dutifully removed the message. What a mensch. Maybe you came to terms with the fact that one person on the planet might not be totally enamored with you?)
But there is one thing I need to take up with you, James. Not long ago, I tweeted you a request for an interview, figuring, “He’s so cool, I bet I can just go directly to the source and he’ll respond. He will surely siphon through his millions of tweets and find a gem like mine, then answer it with the celebrity urgency it requires. After all, I just know he’s fully aware of what a fabulous icon I am and what a great match we’d be in creating some beautiful gay copy together.” But you never responded, you little bitch. Does that mean the wedding is off?
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AND NOW ON TO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
Not just any other people, mind you. I’m going to stick to widely regarded stars who happen to be appearing on Broadway right now. Like that other screen idol, Daniel Radcliffe, who, like Franco, enjoys careening between blockbuster bonanzas and artsy provocations. Radcliffe has chosen his stage revivals pretty well (though Equus is always a tad overwrought and in How To Succeed…, he was appealing, but not quite conniving enough. The guy’s just so nice!). Now he’s in The Cripple of Inishmaan, the closest to “cute” of anything Martin McDonagh’s ever written, and a warm ensemble comedy about 1934 Irish camaraderie, gossip, oppression, and redemption. Michael Grandage’s production is high-pitched and chirpy, but lovingly put together, and Radcliffe does really well with his fast-talking victim character, who’s tired of going to doctors and fending off bullies and is aiming for a little romance to help ward off his various diagnoses. Radcliffe is committed to the character’s disability—he’s clearly thought it through and worked it out—and when the chance for Hollywood stardom enters the “cripple’s” world of possibilities, you know Radcliffe will be adept at that twist too. But as he convincingly limped across the stage, I couldn’t help thinking, Maybe that’s from having sex with the horse?
If Of Mice and Men and Inishmaan aren’t enough for you, there are two other shows about disability: Violet is just another musical about a girl with a gruesome facial scar riding the bus to meet a faith healer. Kidding. The 1997 Jeanine Tesori/Brian Crawley work has always been a special case, a delicate flower devoid of the old razzle dazzle, and in its first Broadway production, it gives two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster the chance to emotionally strip down and go full-on serious as a scarred young woman (though we don’t see the disfigurement) searching for a miracle of movie star looks. Foster’s full of integrity and gives her typically fine performance, and she’s ably abetted by Joshua Henry as the new soldier friend who’s also judged by his face. (He’s black, and this is the South in 1964.) Her touching “Lay Down Your Head” number and his rousing “Let It Sing” are highlights, and the mostly intimate production—which started at Encores!—reeks of sensitivity and class. I wish I could also report that the result was electrifying.
And finally, the scars of old age are the focus of Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn (opening tonight), about a cantankerous old woman who’s physically and mentally spiraling, but who distracts herself with a sparring partner in the form of her long lost son. (He’s gay, by the way, which always made dad uncomfortable, “like gorgonzola cheese.”) At a talkback after the performance I saw, director Molly Smith said the two award winning actors—the formidable Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella—were like “wild animals” at rehearsal as they parsed through each line, asking millions of questions. I only had one. At the end of the talkback, why did the producer offer us tickets to see the show again, or to give to a friend? Everyone oohed and ahed over this act of supreme generosity, only to be handed a card that said, “Tickets from $45”! I’ll stick with seeing my man James Franco again for full price.